A Little Political Theology Courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

From his “Petition of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” presented in the House of Representatives on February 12, 1790:

The memorial respectfully showeth,

That from a regard for the happiness of mankind, as association was formed several years since in this State, by a number of her citizens, of various religious denominations, for promoting the abolition of slavery, and for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just and acute conception of the true principles of liberty, as it spread through the land, produced accessions to their numbers, many friends to their cause, and a Legislative cooperation with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large number of their fellow-creatures of the African race. They have also the satisfaction to observe, that in consequence of that spirit of philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are forming at home and abroad.

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position.

The Cynical Mr. Cruz

This week in Washington, a major conference took place on the persecution of Mideast Christians. The conference brought together Christians from around the region, including many church hierarchs. Many of the attendees had experienced Islamist persecution firsthand. The overarching theme was unity, and the overall purpose was to raise awareness about what Christians in the region are going through.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) addressed the gathering. Rather than focus on the plight of Christians, the subject of the conference, he decided to take the opportunity to lecture the crowd on its failure sufficiently to support Israel. After saying his purpose was to highlight the suffering of Christians, he abruptly and unaccountably segued to the story of Israel’s founding in 1948. “And, today,” he continued, “Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.” At this point, some in the crowd – some, not all – began to boo and tell him to “move on.” Instead, Cruz dug in, accusing the crowd of being unchristian and consumed with hatred for Jews. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he told the crowd, “then I will not stand with you.” And he left the stage.

When I first read the story, I shook my head at Cruz’s naiveté. Rightly or wrongly, Israeli policy towards Palestine is a sore point for many Mideast Christians, not a few of whom are Palestinians. Some Christians have been forced by circumstance to reach accommodations with Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, two foes of Israel. And, although Israel does not persecute Christians – it would be obtuse to suggest it does – many Christians in Israel feel that they are not particularly welcome, either. There are repeated reports of kids defacing churches and harassing Christian processions in the Old City of Jerusalem, for example. It would be convenient to blame these incidents on Islamists, but the perpetrators typically turn out to be students from ultraconservative yeshivas. And there are complaints that the government is quietly trying to push Christians out by denying building permits, professional licenses, etc. William Dalrymple’s classic book about Mideast Christians, From the Holy Mountain, details these complaints.

This week’s conference was not the place to discuss all this, and the organizers clearly wished to avoid criticizing Israel. In fact, the conference wasn’t about Israel at all. So, most attendees were stunned by Cruz’s comments and embarrassed at the reaction to them. Why interrupt a conference about Mideast Christians to talk about Israel’s struggles, a subject bound to divide people? It’s worth repeating, not everyone booed Cruz. Some in the crowd applauded him.

As I say, my first thought was that Cruz had been exceptionally inept. How could he fail to anticipate that he would derail the conference by taking this line? It seems, however, that he had the episode planned. Before giving the speech, Cruz met with the editorial board of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, which then ran an obligingly alarmist account of the upcoming event with the headline “Cruz Headlines Conference Featuring Hezbollah Supporters.” Apparently, the whole thing was a setup, a farce to make Cruz look good with his base and shore up his credibility as a pro-Israel hawk. Mollie Hemingway has the evidence over at The Federalist.

People will move on from this sad episode, and the good work of the conference in raising the plight of Mideast Christians will no doubt bear fruit. But what are we to make of such a man, who hijacks an event focused on the suffering of a mostly forgotten group of people, sandbags his hosts, preens self-righteously, and deliberately provokes an ugly reaction to score political points? No doubt, Cruz and his staff will trumpet his brave conduct in standing up to bullies. In fact, what he did was humiliate the powerless, and there’s another word for that than brave.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

“The Rule of Law and the Rule of God” (Ilesanmi et. al., eds.)

Next month, Palgrave Macmillion will release “The Rule of Law and the Rule of God” edited by Simeon O. Ilesanmi (Wake Forest University), Win-Chiat Lee (Wake Forest University),  and J. Wilson Parker (Wake Forest University School of Law). The publisher’s description follows:

The Rule of Law and the Rule of God examines the competing regimes of law and religion, using the concept of rule to illustrate the patterns of their interactions, and a multidisciplinary approach to demonstrate the global scope of their influence. It argues that the tension that often characterizes the relationship between these two cultural institutions results from their disagreements about the kinds of rule that should govern human life and society, and from where they should be derived. By combining theoretical analyses with tradition-specific and regional case studies, the book aims to advance our understanding of how the rule of law and the rule of religion should properly relate to each other, not only in a general way, but also in the context of addressing conflicts that may arise from their inevitable interaction. In addition to legal academics, the humanities scholars and students as well as the general public, will benefit from this book.

“The Ashgate Research Companion to Islamic Law” (Peters & Bearman, eds.)

In July, Ashgate Publishing released “The Ashgate Research Companion to Islamic Law” edited by Rudolph Peters (University of Amsterdam) and Peri Bearman (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows:

This unparalleled Companion provides a comprehensive and authoritative guide to Islamic law to all with an interest in this increasingly relevant and developing field. The volume presents classical Islamic law through a historiographical introduction to and analysis of Western scholarship, while key debates about hot-button issues in modern-day circumstances are also addressed. In twenty-one chapters, distinguished authors offer an overview of their particular specialty, reflect on past and current thinking, and point to directions for future research.

The Companion is divided into four parts. The first offers an introduction to the history of Islamic law as well as a discussion of how Western scholarship and historiography have evolved over time. The second part delves into the substance of Islamic law. Legal rules for the areas of legal status, family law, socio-economic justice, penal law, constitutional authority, and the law of war are all discussed in this section. Part three examines the adaptation of Islamic law in light of colonialism and the modern nation state as well as the subsequent re-Islamization of national legal systems. The final section presents contemporary debates on the role of Islamic law in areas such as finance, the diaspora, modern governance, and medical ethics, and the volume concludes by questioning the role of Sharia law as a legal authority in the modern context.

By outlining the history of Islamic law through a linear study of research, this collection is unique in its examination of past and present scholarship and the lessons we can draw from this for the future. It introduces scholars and students to the challenges posed in the past, to the magnitude of milestones that were achieved in the reinterpretation and revision of established ideas, and ultimately to a thorough conceptual understanding of Islamic law.